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What is The Future of Farming?

 
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I'd like to have a discussion about the future of worldwide commercial mass farming.
Right now we have mass production, machines harvesting, mass input of fertilizers and pesticides.
Is there a way to do a transition from earth-, nature- and people-destroying agriculture to a closed loop system.

This is the future according to 'normal' standards, what do you think?


How should the worldwide food supply look like in 50 years? Realistically (kind of )
 
steward
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Many people I trust say that a massive wave of unemployment is coming, as more and more jobs now performed by humans are taken over by machines - self driving trucks being one obvious job killer.

I would like to move towards a future where we return people - in huge numbers - to the business of producing food.  One thing a robot can not do, and won't be able to do for quite some time, is manage a polyculture.  Harvesting food from a polyculture takes a combination of knowledge and manual dexterity that's just going to be hard to program.

Most of our "progress" in agriculture centers on removing humans - bigger fields, bigger machines to plant and harvest those fields, and then the pesticides that become necessary whenever you grow thousands of the same plant in close proximity.  To get away from pesticides, you need more complexity.  This is how we get humans back into the picture.

Of course, for this to work, either food gets a lot more expensive or we institute a basic income program, or . . . . something.
 
pollinator
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Having grown up on a farm and having big farms in the family, about half of what was shown is being incorporated on our family farm here in Maine. Robots, GPS tractors, livestock detectors, livestock nutrition, etc,  but I am not sure it really has helped the bottom line. There is a saying my Grandfather said that has always held true for me, "Those that can, Do, and those that cannot, Teach.".

Over the years most of the salesman and consultants that have come to our farms have that as experience, they tried to make it as farmers, failed, and realizing they could not farm, peddle wares and ideas onto us. What I have to ask myself is this; "if you could not do it, why should I listen to you seeing as how I am making it?" It is not a arrogant response, it is VERY legitimate.

Most of what was depicted is information, and while that can be powerful, at some point information has to be acted upon. A case in point is what my Vet wants to do, Ultrasound sheep a week after lambing to see which are pregnant and those that are not. From that we can separate the singles, from the twins, from the triplets so that we can feed them different so they get optimum health. My bank wants us to get into this in a big way. My question is why? Why not just feed sheep as we always have assuming each has a twin in her belly? While ultra-sounding is great information to know, it changes nothing. I cannot change what the sheep have for singles, twins and triplets. And my fields produce X amount of tons of feed per year. I am going to store that feed for use. That means what little bit I waste feeding ewes with singles more feed is nothing in terms of cost, and the mortality losses for Ewes with triplets will not be significant either because lactation is where feed and triplets really play havoc with one another. So in the end the cost of ultra-sounding does not justify the costs of doing it. Now we are looking into buying our own ultra-sound and doing our own sheep, but for now it is not high on the priority list...again because of costs.

They say history repeats itself and right now we are like we were in the 1920's when electricity was going into every home. Cartoonists at the time showed the most complex machines to do the most simple tasks all because an electric motor could do it. Today we have the exact same thing with digital technology. However just as most of us still brush our teeth with a hand tooth brush, shave with hand razors, or paint with a paint brush, so too will these items that just do not make sense. Time will weed out what works efficiently, and what does not.
 
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I've been reading a lot of Gene Logsdon lately, and am almost finished with Letter to a Young Farmer. He writes, even in his older essays from the 80's, a future of many small farms supplying food locally which I myself see happening and am about to go participate in this. Ten years ago Nashville had one farmers market located downtown, and it was buyer beware. Not all produce was locally grown. Anyone could have a booth and buy wholesale produce across town from other states and countries to sell. (The city actually changed the rules and only locally grown/made products can now be sold at the downtown farmers market) Now there are multiple small satellite farmers markets around the city and all of them truly are selling locally/regionally grown foods and business is booming. Logsdon writes the old motto was "get big or get out" with fewer larger farms becoming tens of thousands of acres in size. Logsdon writes that the small farms popping up everywhere are filling the void the groundhogs can't meet; high quality, nutrient dense food grown without using poisons or erosive techniques. The new motto he writes is "get small and stay in".

Logsdon believed, and I believe it too, that the current Big Ag's solution of more poisons and new GMO's are just the death throes of an antiquated industry that doesn't want to die. There's been a shift in the market, people now care about the quality of the food they eat, how it was grown, and where it comes from. When I go to the farmers market, me and all the other folks there are voting with our wallets. At the end of the day, Big Ag only cares about profits, and every year the figures of people buying conventional industrially grown food are declining.

So to answer the question, I think it's small farms! The number of small farms continues to rise each year as demand for real food grows.
 
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Time will weed out what works efficiently, and what does not.  

 I agree with most of everything that has been written in response to this thread, this quote included.  While it is true that time will tell about which of these machines and agricultural 'innovations' are going to work efficiently, the unfortunate consequences of those actions have been ongoing erosion, compaction, pollution, and ill health on unprecedented scales.  This will continue until the economy hits some kind of tipping point toward small scale sustainable production, or crashes entirely leaving a massive scar to all of the sudden heal.  The sooner that one of those things happens, the better in my opinion.  
 
Freddy Happy
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Thanks for all the responses!

So, the future should be to get small again, have lots of polycultures, etc?
The thing is... farmers in Belgium for example have an average of about 60 acres per farm, small comparing to the US with about 338 acres per farm.
How would these farmers legally and practically go from an average of 1,5 people working per farm, monoculture, huge investments in let's say grain equipment, change to a 60-acres polyculture, which will probably need more manpower.
How would the output of irregular crops and yields be integrated in the industrial food factory, or should we abandon that and only have farmers markets left, eat what's ripe.
A possible problem could be that people won't like to eat only preserved food, almost no fresh food during winter. Should we abandon having bananas in cold climates or should we embrace globalization? Or should we shift to the indoor growing of, let's say bananas? Where then should the energy come from? Nuclear, "renewable",...?

Here, there's a saying that nobody wants to work on the fields, first they "imported" people from neighboring countries, now they don't want to work on the fields anymore and we "have to import" people from even further.
There is of course a certain stupidity in gouvernements paying loads of money to bureaucracy, people "are supposed to" prefer sitting at a desk whole day. They could change policies to be more food-oriented then numbers oriented.
But we can't deny there is a certain need for numbers, especially in cities. Also, how should gouvernements then interact with agriculture, being supportive but not turning in communism?

An interesting saying I once heard, something about: "A civilisation will fail as long as our foods are from annuals"
Should we shift to getting the most of our necessary callories and essential food elements from trees and other perennials? A no till future, at worst the Yeoman plow kind of thing?
But are we going to change centuries of food culture? Grain, corn, rice, to nuts. Sugar from cane to sugar from fruit?




 
pollinator
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I think the future will be similar to the current situation no one is going to be growing bananas here in northern France anytime soon nor will jamacian plums ever sell well here .
It's all about economics is my thought  . The current monoculture dominated farms will remain as such until they go bust. The cost of the chemicals is killing them , the cost and ability to find labour is also difficult the robots are just a stop gap as they will never be adaptable enough to cope with living systems .
I expect many countries to effectively depopulate the countryside and in the next century depopulation to become a thing , a problem leading to lack of demand and failing economy's . It's already an issue in japan Scotland Bulgaria and Eire maybe other places I don't know about yet . The result will be what I think of as a permie economy .
Everyone with multiple jobs all partime plus everyone grows stuff and others make stuff locally .
But I better stop there before I get political as we are not in the cider press

David
 
James Freyr
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Hi Luigi you bring up a lot of great questions. I myself am not educated enough or qualified if you will to accurately answer them, but I can give my thoughts on a few of them. The small farm growth in America is really the result of people, a lot of them young folks, who have passion to farm. That is the driving factor. There's a whole new generation of people who care less about money and more about ethics. Historically, the measure of ones success in America (and I'm sure this includes other countries as well) is how big and fancy their house is, the kind of cars in the driveway and the brand of clothes on their backs. It's a cultural thing and it's really silly. I've met and known "successful" people who are unhappy and their personal lives are in shambles, but they live in the rich part of town and drive a hundred thousand dollar car. I mean, who cares where they live and what they drive? Apparently their circle of shallow friends do. It's really refreshing and actually gives me a little hope in the future to see young people care about the planet, the plants and animals, and the food they eat. There are smart, educated young folks who can think critically and see the ways of the past (industrial agriculture) and how they don't work.

The only reason current American mega farms work is because of government subsidies. That's how the farmers make money, otherwise it's a net loss. If the government didn't pay them, the mega farms will collapse. That method is unsustainable and unprofitable. It's going to be difficult to undo that because the poison companies and the gmo seed companies (which now mostly are the same companies) are in bed with the government.

I myself don't think the answer lies in indoor growing with artificial lights, though I can see how the power companies would love that. I see indoor growing in urban greenhouses are very popular with some countries in Europe, especially the dutch with their rooftop setups, and it's a great success story because they're relying on free energy from the sun.



 
pollinator
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You seem to have a lot of interesting thoughts going through your mind, Luigi

I won't discuss the politics/economics of it, but will talk about possibilities I've read about.

First off, I'd like to dispel a common idea that the earth is running out of food and automation is the next step in "feeding the world". The title of the the Video is the typical mindset of: "There is a monster on a rampage. Time for Technology to save the day!!". It's flashy marketing which is trying to solve a problem that it is actually causing and will further perpetuate.

Fixing the "ugly-food" concept would gain more efficiency than 100 robots per acre ever could. Localization can reduces 1000 mile trips that can cause food to spoil and become damaged. Then at the end of the line, look at how much is thrown away whether by stores due-dates or people themselves. If these could even be moderately tackled on large scale, that'd certainly be a minimum 10% increase in efficiency of the current food system.

Luigi Hunter wrote: How would these farmers legally and practically go from an average of 1,5 people working per farm, monoculture, huge investments in let's say grain equipment, change to a 60-acres polyculture, which will probably need more manpower.  



Polycultures and fiefdoms are really powerful things which I don't think many people can grasp the concept of because of how different they are to Westerners. There is a 1/2 acre (maybe 1/4) nursery somewhere in US that employees 12 people year round. Jean-Martin Fortier made $100,000+ per year on 1 acre. A conventional farm is constantly fighting it's own inertia towards desertification which reduces the total resources gained from an area substantially - leaving the farmer to work really hard all year but not have enough to pay to hire 1 full time employee.

Permaculture can and will become more widespread as more equipment is made to match such well-designed small systems. The issue for conventional farmers getting into polycultures is not a limit of capital, it's a knowledge barrier. If they can be shown they can make the same profit, using similar small machines, but only needing 1/10 to 1/100th of the area, I'm sure some would at least consider it. Probably the easiest way would be to tell them to take 1 acre from the 60 total and convert that to polyculture. That's enough space to show the power of good design while not really forcing them to make any large investments or risks. After that, they can decide on if and how they want to transition.

Luigi Hunter wrote: A possible problem could be that people won't like to eat only preserved food, almost no fresh food during winter. Should we abandon having bananas in cold climates or should we embrace globalization? Or should we shift to the indoor growing of, let's say bananas? Where then should the energy come from? Nuclear, "renewable",...?


Try not to rely on absolutes when dealing with complex issues as it makes the problem even more complicated and tends to lead to unrealistic scenarios.

I'm not sure I can agree with your observation about a problem with preserved foods, since the frozen-food section is massive in many stores and people have giant freezers to match that - at least in North America. I can infact say during winter in my area that many people here live off "meat and potatoes" and fresh produce is the last thing on their mind.

I also don't really understand how bananas and globalization come into the original topic or how they would cause a problem with the integration of more localized polycultures into the food system. There are plenty of plants that will only grow well in northern climates such as maple trees for syrup. If there are many places in the world each growing what foods grow best there, it's logical to assume that trading of those certain products would still continue.

The point to take home is that there is plenty of opportunity for polycultures to be what future farming looks like.
 
Roberto pokachinni
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How would these farmers legally and practically go from an average of 1,5 people working per farm, monoculture, huge investments in let's say grain equipment, change to a 60-acres polyculture, which will probably need more manpower.
and only have farmers markets left, eat what's ripe.  

I think that something easily could happen in this regard:

Imagine that a big farmer in the U.S. with say 500 acres decided to split his acreage into 50 acre parcels.  He puts this land into swales and plants trees on the swale mounds, that produce a fruit, nut, and herb crop (I'm going with cherries, hazelnuts, huckleberries, and ginseng but I'm not sure how well they will polyculture), while catching water.  The gaps in between the swales are big enough for two passes with his big ag machines, and any variance in the swales is put into a small pond which is allowed to go feral for wildlife.  He forms a corporate cooperative to encourage young farmers to buy in by contract and take on a 50 acre plot under his leadership.  In these he grows two crops that he already grew, plus more.  I'm going to go with something conventionally done already: Corn and Soy.  But he grows them with organic seed and zero tillage.  He grows, corn in one band that is a single pass with his machine, and in next 'row' he grows soy with another pass of a machine.  These are alternated for a few years, producing fertility in the ground, and he runs pigs in the corn crop to reduce it's bulk after the harvest.  Later he can change these alternate rows to peas and oats for a few years, or lentils and wheat, or alfalfa and rye in future years.  Crops are improved, as is the soil, as is the capacity to hold rainfall; all planted rows are basically swales int themselves.  The machines are still being utilized so they are not a complete waste of money, and he still gets crops, in this case in addition to Corn and Soy, and in the future oats, peas, lentils, wheat, alfalfa and rye, he gets Pigs, Cherries, Hazelnuts, Ginseng, fertility, water retention, as well as wildlife benefits. He gets a diverse income into his retirement, and a lasting legacy with zero erosion, migratory wetland birds, and 10 young farmers taking over his infrastructure under the umbrella of the cooperative he founded.  The above is a transition towards further polycultures and is not static unto itself.

How would the output of irregular crops and yields be integrated in the industrial food factory, or should we abandon that



I once worked in an organic warehouse factory.  There were various machines in the factory that produced a diversity of products.  Many of the machines were adjustable so that a variety of different sized raw products could be processed.  While it is perhaps less likely that this is the case with mega factories, it is likely that with some minor machining or adjustments in the structure of many mechanical structures that some adjustment could be done to process more diverse products.  Difficult, but not impossible, if we want to continue to have people in huge factories that is.  It might be better to phase these out, as might be best for the case of the large machines on the large farm in the example above.  At any rate, as machines age they could be replaced to have more machines doing other tasks, or more people doing more tasks.  Some of the factory space, later could be transitioned to vermiculture farms, fish farms, black soldier fly farms, and aquatic plant farms that cycle the excess nutrient waste from the factory and the local restaurants to produce a lot of vermicompost, soldier fly fish feed, cattails, mint, carp, snails, freshwater clams, and comfrey... or lots of other things, while employing a lot of people and producing even more food.  
 
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"Modern Farming" relies on machines to prepare land, plant crops, harvest those crops, move those crops to storage or market.
It also follows the kill the soil to dirt and add artificial nutrients that are only the basic needs of the plants to grow the crop, there is no concern of nutritional value in this method.
This method is not going to remain sustainable in the future, there is less and less oil to be turned into fertilizer, fuel and plastic containers and everything else that we derive from oil.
The use of poisons for farming will have to come to an end at some point or there will only be hydroponic growing that would remain viable for large quantity production of crops.
There are already countries that are rejecting the poison portion of the current farming norm, there are even a few that are rejecting the fertilizer portion of the method.

I see the future turning more towards a method that allows the soil to thrive and thus provide higher nutritional value in the foods grown.
Humans are coming down with many maladies that can be related to the poor nutrition the current foods provide, only a return to high quality nutritional values in foods will stem this trend of sickness and disease.

Redhawk
 
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There are a lot of good ideas in this thread. I am going to add to them, and comment a bit.

First, let's make it clear that trade is not the enemy of sustainability. As mentioned earlier, some products only grow well in their respective climates, as citrus for the tropics or maple for the north. It would cost more to grow citrus in the North in most cases than it would to ship it from the South (I am in the northern hemisphere, by the way. Reverse for southern hemispherians). What I will love is when we see hybrid power ocean shipping using kite sails and solar-powered electric drives, and better yet, heavy-lift solar electric airships. When we take fossil fuels out of the picture, this natural human activity of trade will be less damaging to the environment.

Urbanisation has created a concentration of nutrient wealth so vast that it is treated as waste, which we all know is fallacious, simply too narrow a view of a much larger system. I think that eventually, urban sewage treatment will focus more on use of this resource, probably in some kind of bacterial fuel cell or methane biodigester setup, but will probably lead to the waste product of that process being repurposed as fertilizer, as is already done with some treated sewage in some urban areas.

Ultimately, finance will be a driving factor. If there is no employment and people can feed themselves off small, intensively managed gardens (think Jean-Martin Fortier), they likely will. Even with employed people, if food is expensive and times are tough, and you can do anything to stretch a buck, wouldn't you? I know I would, especially if the food tastes better, and I know what's in it.

I think that grocers will eventually either start supplying a food waste recycling industry in urban areas or will do it themselves, using chickens and/or pigs. Either way, food that is otherwise inedible by humans due to spoilage will be turned into local meat and eggs, either by new private enterpreneurs, or by the grocers themselves.

I think that urban backyard chickens will become one of a number of popular food sustainability measures. Their ability to reduce the volume of household organic waste bins will probably be embraced as another cost-saving measure.

I do think that, because not everyone has a green thumb or an affinity for chickens, we will see people producing excess food for their neighbours, and that it will be paid for by bartering goods or services, because even in the era of set-it-and-forget-it hydroponic and aeroponic gardens, not everyone is rushing to have one on their kitchen countertop for fresh microgreens.

In terms of farming in the traditional rural sense, I would also like to see technology empower the small-scale and family farm in sustainable ways. I like Roberto's idea about the alley cropping on contour with fruit and nut swale mounds (though I would go whole hog and throw in as many different stonefruit crops from cherry to plum all the way up to peaches if possible, and include mulberry trees, raspberries, blackberries, and currants, and maybe blueberries, too, and at least one nitrogen-fixing tree crop on the north side of each swale), but I would want to work rotating pasturage into the mix, and probably have dedicated perennial pasture strips in strategic locations to minimise topsoil loss and nutrient runoff. This, to me, is the future of any kind of mechanised field crop, buffered from the wind, trapping the rain, designed to be just wide enough for one or two passes between contour swale mounds. Fruit and nut crops would be harvested in turn by hand.

In terms of technology, I think the biggest area of impact will be weather and condition monitoring devices. Imagine networks of sensor packages cheap enough to place on every fencepost and scattered over a whole property, or a flock of sensor drones flying the same pattern autonomously, constantly, and recording weather and growing condition data, collating all that data into a map of the microclimates of any given property. It could indicate exactly where to put those drought-sensitive crops, where it would be necessary to use a crop or variety that is drought-resistant, where it was sheltered enough that you could grow citrus in Montana without a greenhouse, all because of information.

In terms of livestock management, while I like the idea that you might be able to use GPS with control collars on cattle to contain them to areas on a pasture without fencing, moving their herd by changing GPS coordinates, and thereby enabling you to use your sensor data to map out their course over a grazing season, I don't think I like the idea of taking humans out of the picture, and except for those at the top, I don't think many do. So I like GPS control collars for the potential to enable safe and effective mob grazing for small farms without lots of fencing for the fact that they increase the capability of the little guy, but they could be misused.

I will think on it. I am sure there's more to come.

-CK
 
Freddy Happy
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Hi!
Thanks so much for all the interesting insights!

So the big conclusion is: polyculture, trees producing the most of our bulk calories as wall as fruit, perennials and at last some annuals.
Closed loop system, <almost> no input needed.

The thing is, that 99% of the permaculture practitioners do it on small scale, and I somewhat have the feeling that there isn't really a guideline, manual for "professional big-time farmers".
If I'd tell an 'on average' (Belgian) farmer: check out permaculture, they say: oh, I have to build a herb spiral, a raised bed, blablabla,... they somewhat have the feeling that permaculture is only applicable for the enthusiasts, the hobbyists,... They don't find the hard data, the hard evidence why they should switch.

I'd love to, and it's my personal goal, to promote a more sustainable agriculture, permaculture to the BIG commercial players: Closed loops systems, no chemicals,... but at the moment the most materials, books about permaculture talk too much about concepts, wonderful ideas, giving a part away to people and wildlife, be community-ish, all wonderful things, but it won't convince them.

The small people can of course change the world, but the BIG players can maybe change it even more.
What the core of the survivalist farmers, and yes, they have hard times to survive, want to hear is the following:

LIST OF NEEDED PROOF:
- Permaculture can make more money and these documents / scientific papers / masters in the CONVENTIONAL field PROVE it!
- In zone X, this altitude, attitude, this kind of soil, this orientation,...: this is the 'master plan' I have to follow in order to simply install a commercially viable sustainable system.
- It is a proof system, year after year they can save money, are safe against disasters, resilient, and again MAKE MONEY!!!

Anyone has these? Thanks ;-) We need hard scientific data on green as in greens and green as in dollars.
Greets,
Luigi
 
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I Suspect the future of agriculture is bigger, bigger bigger and more mechanised, The vast majority of people want cheap food, sure you ask them in the street and they'll spout on about sustainability organic etc etc, but when you're not watching in the supermarket they'll go for the cheapest option.

My mother in law this year decided to scale up from her roadside stand, so she took a year off work and planted 1 acre of strawberries 4 acres of veg and 4 acres of potatos. They bought another tractor and two specialised planting machines, they already had the potato planter and harvester. They also swapped some land with a neighbour so they could be organic from year one. They make very nice money from that stall, talking $200-300 a DAY, they have restaurant customers, supply a large school and go to a market (very rare things over here there isn't one within 70miles of me) But half way through the year they had to let their full time staff member go, cut the other one to less than 10 hours a week and rely on her mother for 70+ hours unpaid labour And it STILL doesn't make any money. Everything sells, and it sells for over supermarket prices, the problem is labour, and equipment depreciation costs. you can either grow mixed veg on a small scale 2 acres or less with just the family or you can specialise and mechanise, in the middle it just doesn't work. Even when you look at the "sucess" stories, someone here mentioned JM fortier 100K canadian income...now split that between those who work there and remove costs and taxes, yes it works, yes it makes a living but you could make more working practically anywhere else and that is the issue with this type of enterprise (just to be fair I do have to point out that I also sell vegetables from 2 acres, I do make a profit but I could make more working in mcdonalds.)

The problem I see with people going on about permaculture feeding the world, is how many acres do you need per person? I hear talk about people living happily and nearly self sufficiently on 20-30-60 acres. well that just doesn't add up. the intensive small scale veg productions of fortier, curtis and others (me included) do work but they all happily admit it is not sustainable as a closed loop, the compost imputs alone are huge, infact thinking about it no vegsales can work without huge imputs unless you get your customers to use a composting toilet and give it back to you!

I think personaly that small farms as most of us here like will not make up a large sector of the market without some form of catastrophic event happening. As it stands there are not the people free and willing to do it,  Even with the parents in laws old equipment and weedfilled fields three of us two tractors and a potato harvester could harvest 2000kg an hour you try that by hand on a small scale polyculture and that 2000kg will take (I'm working it on my speed) 33 manhours as apposed to 3. Of course it is physicaly possible to do it, but I do not believe there is the public will to either get out and dig/reap/sow their own or to pay 10x the amount for their food.
 
Chris Kott
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The cheap monocrop systems stop being cheap if you tax carbon and factor in the cost of lost topsoil, ecology and diversity. There is no future there. There's more economic benefit to indoor vertical factory farms. At least there, you're starting with an artificial, sterile petri dish. You're not trying to make living land sterile so you can impose your will upon it.

-CK
 
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Some folks have suggested polycultures as being the way forward.  Although I think that would be nice, I don't see even the slightest chance of it happening, and here's why:

A central pillar of scientific inquiry is controlling variables, and it is also central to the process of quality control.  Urban populations demand a steady food supply, which can only be 'guaranteed' by execution of farming techniques that give predictable and reproducible results.

Note that I make no mention whatsoever about quality or quantity.  Neither of those are actually relevant.  Urban populations only demand consistency.  Growing urban populations only demand that said consistency can be linearly-scaled to meet increased demand.

A polyculture (and biodiversity in general) is β€” by definition β€” antithetical to consistency and scalability, so is unacceptable to farmers that supply food for the masses.

Consistency of produce and linear scalability of systems are the factors driving farming now, and they will continue to drive farming in the future.

Put another way:  Farming in the future will have fewer uncontrolled variables, not more of them.  "Nature" will play an ever-decreasing role.
 
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Luigi Hunter wrote:I'd like to have a discussion about the future of worldwide commercial mass farming.
Right now we have mass production, machines harvesting, mass input of fertilizers and pesticides



Hmm. Worldwide Commercial Mass Farming. That seems to me like a synonym for Corporate Petroleum Farming. I expect that sort of farming to become less and less viable. Petroleum continues getting harder and harder to extract as the easy to mine deposits are used up, and the EROEI drops precipitously.  Prices continue to rise. When I was a child, I bought gasoline for 35 cents per gallon. Systems like government, and globalized corporations and banking were able to grow to huge size because of an abundance of cheap energy. As energy becomes more and more expensive, I expect it to become harder and harder to pay for those huge systems. I expect the lower classes of society to throw lots of monkey wrenches into the system, just to watch it freeze up. I expect those monkey wrenches to be things like votes for succession, and electing populist leaders.Corporate Petroleum farming is also a synonym for Debt Farming. Farmers borrow huge amounts of money for seed, fuel, poisons, and equipment. Their continued viability as farmers depends on a banking and money system that is reliable from year to year. The scandals within the banking/monetary system seem to grow with every passing year. Likewise the petroleum industry depends on huge piles of debt, and a hiccup in the banking/monetary system could easily disrupt the petroleum industry upon which Corporate Petroleum farming depends.   In like manner, the fertilizers and pesticides used in Corporate Petroleum Farming are highly dependent on cheap petroleum and huge debt. I expect these systems to continue to unravel in fits and starts, just like they have been doing for decades. The pendulum has been swinging toward more and more ownership of things by fewer and fewer people. Historically, that trend reverses itself, typically suddenly, and results in a more egalitarian distribution of resources (land). I expect that trend to manifest this time around as well.

I observe mass movements in many locations in which the indigenous people's are saying no to Petroleum farming, and to the corporate/petroleum/financial interests which are it's foundation. I expect those to continue to gain popular acceptance, and to spread to other areas.

In my own life, I don't eat soybean, canola, or corn oils. That goes a long way towards separating me from the Corporate Petroleum Farming system. Reminds me of the people of India spinning their own clothing because they didn't like being under the thumb of the corporations. I'm reminded of them making their own salt, even though the law required them to buy salt from The Corporation. I love the symbolism of boycotting soy, corn, and canola, since they are the bedrock foundation of Corporate Petroleum Farming. Won't you join me in my lifestyle choice?

Luigi Hunter wrote:Is there a way to do a transition from earth-, nature- and people-destroying agriculture to a closed loop system.



Agriculture on my farm is not a closed loop system. Water falls from the sky, into the mountains, it is captured in a reservoir, which irrigates my crops. The used  irrigation water flows downhill, through the ground, and reappears in springs that water the next village downhill, or the crops transpire water, and it settles out as dew or rain in the nearby mountains, and once again gets captured to irrigate my fields or fields in nearby towns.

In a similar fashion, nitrogen flows through my garden in an open loop. Animals leave droppings and bodies which provide nitrogen that the plants can use. Plants die and decay again providing nitrogen to future generations. Lightning creates nitrates to fertilize the plants. Bacteria fix nitrogen, or release it back into the atmosphere. Nitrogen flows through my garden. I take vegetables from my farm to feed my community, and thus utilize some of the flow of nitrogen that was captured. But, I always use much less than was captured.

Carbon dioxide likewise flows through my garden in an open loop.  There is always much more carbon dioxide flowing through my garden than it can use effectively.

In a similar manner, micro-minerals flow through my garden with dust storms, forest fire soot, irrigation water, insects, birds, etc. I capture a small portion of them as food for my family and community.

The sunlight that flows into my garden is likewise an open loop. It flows in, then reflects out, or gets converted to heat, or biomass, or whatever. Again, I only use a small portion of the flow.
 
David Livingston
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A great post Joseph , it worrys me the number of people who talk about running away from things whilst you , rightly in my view recognise your place and how it fits into the world around you .

david
 
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This is a very interesting topic.  

I went through and updated my books a few days ago... And it looks like the farm will be closing the year with a net loss of about 500 USD.  (That's a pretty significant hit when you convert that to Kenyan currency).  Part of that loss comes in the form of money invested in infrastructure and equipment which will hopefully pay for itself later.  My point however is that there is nothing on paper at the moment which would convince my neighbors that permiculture is a profitable enterprise.  πŸ˜›

I would also like to add that I have found it REALLY hard to employee living, breathing people.  Even here in a third world country, where everyone is crying about unemployment and poverty, and despite the fact that we pay a wage that is 150% of the average here, I can't get or keep good workers.  This is still puzzling me.  And when I do hire a worker, I have a hard time getting them to follow my instructions.  They would rather walk off the job than give up the big-ag practices that have been drilled into them.  Its so frustrating that I won't hire anyone any more, outside of my teenaged kids.  It is now a one-woman show, and the workload is killing me.  I often lay awake at night wondering if MY farm has a viable future.  Can I keep this up for another year? 5? 10? And will there be anyone interested enough to continue it when I can't keep up any more?
 
David Livingston
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Maureen maybe you need to have an apprentice not a worker then you train them
 
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A couple of thoughts come to mind.

First, change can happen quickly.  it is realistic to think that in 10 years, the entire industrial agricultural system could be transformed from chemical-dependent mono-cropping, to a poly-culture based, no-till system.  What would it take?  A little bit of new equipment (a no-till drill, portable electric fencing . . .) and a change in philosophy.

Second, farmers are inherently conservative.  They are reluctant to make changes to their system and their strategies.  This is true for subsistence farmers on the side of a hill somewhere in the developing world as much as it is for a big operator who cultivates 3 sections in the midwest.  But they will change and adapt when they see the proof.

Third, change happens slowly, until it happens rapidly.  There are always early adaptors, and then there are late hold-outs.  The majority of change will happen with the vast middle recognize that there is a better way of doing things.  We are only now beginning to see the widespread adoption, for example, of cover-cropping and no-till.  These techniques will be revolutionary when they become widespread.  Farmers are listening.  They are hearing about it.  They are taking their time and observing . . . but once the center of the bell-curve starts to move, you will see it widely adapted.

Fourth, prophets like Joel Salatin and Gabe Brown (among others) are critically necessary in order for widespread change to occur.  These guys are highly profitable.  They are highly credible.  They have nothing to personally gain from other farmers adapting their practices to mimic theirs.  Hundreds of such prophets will be needed for widespread adaptation to occur.  If you watch a Gabe Brown video on YouTube, you think, "That sounds interesting, but I don't know if I could change my entire operation to look like that."  But when you know 3 guys in your county that are planting no till, who are incorporating multi-species cover crops, who no longer spray, and who are running livestock through those fields to graze the cover crops, you start to think, "Well if he can do it, I can do it."  The next generation of innovators and change agents are only now emerging.  If 1000 such prophets emerge in the next decade, it will be impossible to hold back the change.

Fifth, change or die.  There will be attrition.  Every time our society has gone through such a transition (for instance, the industrial revolution), there have been casualties.  Many farmers will not survive.  But out of the chaos will come new life.
 
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Interestingly, a pamphlet just came out which also considers this question: https://landworkersalliance.org.uk/2017/10/newdealforhorticulture/

There's a perfidious side to commercial agriculture that I'm not sure we're going to be able to keep affording, in an ecological or even an economic sense. A commercial farmer purchases all his inputs on the market, which means he's focussed above all on maximising productivity (not necessarily yields). Given the relative pricing of production factors, this leads toward capital-intensive monoculture and ever-greater economies of scale. At the same time, on a macro-level this only drives prices of crops down, and the combination of minuscule profit margins and the risk inherent in farming mean that farmers are continually driven out of business or are reliant on subsidies to keep afloat. I'm not sure continuing on this path would be either ecologically sound, or politically wise (since I'd rather not have the power over food production concentrated in only a small number of hands).

On the other hand, a peasant style of agriculture (which is less reliant on the market for the purchase of its production factors because it is small-scale and family-based), I'm not sure will work everywhere, and for every crop. More to the point, it's a lifestyle with a lot of hard work and many uncertain rewards, which I think would need quite a bit of cultural and institutional change to be successful, especially in the developed world.
 
Chris Kott
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I categorically disagree with you, Tim. Full stop. Your points are all valid in the sandbox, but if you put them in the real world they all fall down.

The current systems are not working, due to reliance on farmer debt, mostly, and the fact that it either drives families out of the trade, or bankrupts them.

Also, shifts in awareness and levels of comfort with toxicity are indicated by practices that emphasize only spot-spraying of herbicides and pesticides, or only where and when warranted. I am sure that there is also a financial part to this, as it costs less to spot treat crops rather than inundating them.

It is possible to plant field crops in polyculture harvestable by machines. All you'd need to do is plant a block row the width of your harvester. There you go. There's nothing saying you can't checkerboard your fields with different crops based on what would grow best in specific microclimates and keep track of it all with GPS. There's nothing saying you can't plant three strains of corn for your sloping hill, stratifying so the higher the block planting, the more drought-resistant the strain. As mentioned above, sensor drone swarms or stationary sensor packages that collect information could be used to inform farmers about their microclimates so that they could choose different breeds of seed better suited for those specific conditions. There are, of course, no guarantees, but custom tailoring your plantings and mapping out your harvests by GPS sounds like it might make more sense than hoping that the same corn planted at the top, middle, and bottom of a slope all get what they need.

Also, today's farm equipment can be used in a much more responsible way, in terms of conserving soil, which I am pretty sure many recognise as a critical-and-not-conveniently-renewable-on-broad-acreage resource. There's no need to till five times. There's no reason to encourage your soil to become airborne with a sneeze. Choosing crops more in line with extant microclimates and using a seed drill means less soil loss.

The idea of robotised tractors means that you aren't forced to build as big a machine as you can because it will take the work of a whole human to operate. A whole human can operate a swarm or network of machines, perhaps each doing different things, enabling a family farm to be much more productive. Even if it was something as simple as having a lawnmower-sized robot go mow around the next paddock in rotation for grazing, bagging the chopped pasturage for feeding tractored livestock and making room for the electronet fencing bot to drop the next section of fencing for the less-contained livestock, that's one less thing a person has to do, meaning that there's more that can be accomplished by that person.

As I have mentioned, in a world where countries are trying out living wage subsidies because increasing automation is replacing people in the workforce, growing food is a logical job for those who would otherwise be reliant on government subsidy for money to buy food. They still might need that living wage subsidy, but it will go much further. And people will be saved the question of what to do with their abundant free time.

-CK
 
Bryant RedHawk
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One of the things that is currently driving change is the restaurant business and desires of the chefs are leading a move to locally grown foods.
This is making a difference in the viability of small farms, as they adapt to growing nutrient dense foods that aren't shipped more than a hundred or so miles.

Big AG. is not and has not ever been interested in producing nutrient dense food for humans. The huge farmer now grows soybeans, corn, wheat, rice, barley and other grains for the most part.
These guys are more focused on export of their crops than anything else. But our exports are falling, so they will change or perish since they are dependent on export of their products to financially survive.

As Bob Dylan so succinctly wrote a long time ago "The Times They are A Changing". Over the next 10 to 20 years, farmers will have to adapt to sustainable, non input dependent farming methods.
The AG. Chemical business is currently under fire, from all directions and they will change or perish too.

Redhawk
 
Chris Kott
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This is what makes polyculture so appealing. If they're growing all one thing, and it's a bad year for that thing and it all dies in the field, or it's a bumper crop everywhere and prices plummet, it's a bad time to be a farmer. If you have a dozen crops and one fails, so what? Bummer, on to the other 11. Guess we'll have extra feed for (*insert appropriate livestock here*). Half of your apples have worms? Sounds like good news for the chooks and pigs. Guess we'll have to settle for the not-wormy half of the apples, along with the untouched pears, plums, peaches, apricots, cherries, mulberries, raspberries, blackberries...

All that is required for this kind of arrangement to work financially is the kind of movement you see in restaurants, as Bryant mentioned, and urbanites flocking to farmers' markets. If you followed the money, I think you'd find that the profits of export crops don't go back to the farmers. So why go into debt and kill yourself to stay afloat, all the while enriching shareholders and financiers, poison makers and agricultural equipment manufacturers? There's a financial impetus to stop farming as it's being done now. We're halfway to a solution.

I think that using technology in a smart way is how small farms are going to make a comeback, gathering more information and using that to control variables, rather than trying to eliminate them with sprays. I do think that the fast-turnover crops, like microgreens, could take off in a big way in urban vertical farming, and I hope that when they start springing up, that they are incorporated into the end stages of sewage treatment and processing, so that cities can start turning that vast nutrient resource into food again, rather than dumping it into the oceans.

So I think that the future of farming will be human created, self-complicating food systems that produce healthy soil, with integrated data accumulating hardware to help us observe and make better choices, and maybe some robotic assistance, even if it's just fancy mobile livestock tractors and paddock systems that move by themselves based on where the next patch of grazing is.

-CK
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Tim Bermaw wrote:Some folks have suggested polycultures as being the way forward.  Although I think that would be nice, I don't see even the slightest chance of it happening, and here's why:

A central pillar of scientific inquiry is controlling variables, and it is also central to the process of quality control.  Urban populations demand a steady food supply, which can only be 'guaranteed' by execution of farming techniques that give predictable and reproducible results.

Note that I make no mention whatsoever about quality or quantity.  Neither of those are actually relevant.  Urban populations only demand consistency.  Growing urban populations only demand that said consistency can be linearly-scaled to meet increased demand.

A polyculture (and biodiversity in general) is β€” by definition β€” antithetical to consistency and scalability, so is unacceptable to farmers that supply food for the masses.

Consistency of produce and linear scalability of systems are the factors driving farming now, and they will continue to drive farming in the future.

Put another way:  Farming in the future will have fewer uncontrolled variables, not more of them.  "Nature" will play an ever-decreasing role.



This is exactly what is currently going on in farming Tim, nothing new here and it is totally wrong. Current Large Farm Method is what you describe, it is proven to be non-sustainable since inputs will always out pace and out cost outputs. Any economist will tell you that is disaster coming, any Accountant will tell you that always being in the red will put you into bankruptcy fast.

People are starting to demand quality not consistency of inferior quality. The farmers of foods for human consumption are finding out they have to change or perish. The farmers of fuel crops are finding that they are going deep into the red, if they don't change, they will be bankrupt and loose their farms, just as it happened in the US in the 1980's.  When the buyer want's quality foods, they will go purchase where they find their demands met. Currently there are more and more farmers willing to do what it takes to give these buyers what they demand. This is a good thing.
The day Nature is taken out of the farm equation is the day humans begin to disappear from existence.  

There are currently several "vertical" farms working and producing foods, one is owned by Disney, it produces most of the food sold at all Disney enterprises, it is not sustainable however since all nutrients have to be bought and put into their hydroponic system, adjusted so the plants can take in those purchased nutrients and then the refuse has to be taken care of at a cost too. While this is currently working for them, the question is what happens when people don't come to their entertainment parks in the droves required to sustain the cash flow needed.  This is just one example but it is a relevant one.
 
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Chris Kott wrote:I categorically disagree with you, Tim. Full stop. Your points are all valid in the sandbox, but if you put them in the real world they all fall down.


I just described what has happened for the last century, what is currently happening today, and what will continue to happen into the future because, as far as the people actually doing the work are concerned, it is "best practice".  None of it is theory and none of it is in a sandbox β€” it's real-world policy.  You may disagree all you want, and present many worthy alternatives which are ideologically superior, but that won't change the opinions of farmers who grow bulk produce for city dwellers.  "What should be" is not the same as "what was, is and will be".  Broadscale farmers are not interested in what permaculturalists are interested in.  Neither are aggregators.  Neither are distributors.  Neither are wholesalers.  Neither are supermarket chains.

Permaculture has had no measurable impact on agriculture in the last two generations because permaculture and agriculture seek to accomplish different things.  Only a handful of viable mid-sized permaculture farms exist and they are unscalable.  Permaculture works great on the small scale, breaks at the medium-scale, and is a non-starter at the large scale β€” not because it is impossible, but because it is undesirable.

I wish it were different, but it isn't.

If we want to have permanent agriculture then the only practical way to accomplish it is to deal with the demand side of the equation.  In essence, urban centres (cities) create demands (for consistency and scalability) that permaculture simply cannot satisfy.  Permaculture and cities are, therefore, incompatible.  You can have one, but not the other.

Personally, I'd happily sacrifice cities for permaculture.  Unfortunately, the majority (54%) of the population of the planet live in cities and have a different view.  Since the long-term trend is for increased urbanisation, that means I need to accept that "what will happen" (for the next few generations at least) is going to be different to "what I want to happen".  I think we all do.  Ideology and reality need to be teased apart.

Permaculture has a role to play, but it's not the role most folk seem to think it has.  Permaculture (in its current incarnation) is not a viable replacement for agriculture.  If it was, it would have been adopted by now.  But it hasn't been.  So it isn't.  If you're of the school that believes that decision-making should be data-driven, then that data point is a crucial one.
 
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CO2 and Climate change will drive some changes in how we farm. Many otherwise conventional farms will be pushed towards carbon neutral or even carbon negative plans. If carbon becomes commoditized a carbon negative farm might be profitable.

Out of concern for the future I was wondering what it would take to do a carbon neutral or carbon negative farm right now. Several of the things needed on an industrial scale are in many cases still in the pipeline.

One way to do so now might be a return to horse farming. Horse farming is a viable way to farm relatively large acreages. Homesteading was done at a 160 acre scale in part because that is a reasonable scale for horse farming.

The big negative to horse farming in my opinion is that the food requires for the horses themselves will take quite a bit of acreage.

A big positive is horse farming can be done now. The technology and equipment is all available for purchase now.

One alternative is vegetable oil fueled tractors. A few years back the prairie star newspaper ran an article about a farmer who was fueling all his tractors with home grown safflower oil. This technology is available now and uses less land then horse farming (according to the farmer interviewed). Though still more land goes to producing fuel than currently.

Because current systems are very reliant on fossil fuels and do not have to grow their fuel in order not to decrease food production if done on a large scale renewable energy would have to be used to farm which means wind and solar. To do that we would need electric pickup trucks, electric semi trucks, electric trains, and electric tractors.

Tesla is planning electric pickups and semi trucks as a next step soon. Several outfits will soon have electric tractors. A few outfits already sell small electric tractors. I suspect if I searched a little harder I could find an electric pickup truck available now.

I haven't yet found any examples of anyone early adopting such a electric farming system- still searching.

When I dream of altering my family's dry land wheat farm (currently rented out). I imagine either farming a portion of it with horses, finding an oilseed crop, or building up enough wind and solar capacity to farm with electric equipment.

Pollinator strips of perrenial wildflowers and grasses could help to reduce erosion rates.

To make things carbon negative Biochar could be produced using hay ground and interred in the fields.

Alternatively Carragana / Siberian Pea shrubs could be grown as an afforestation crop and periodically masticated to be a feed stock for pyrolysis.

Other carbon fixation methods that might have promise on a large scale include enhanced weathering which would be the spreading of rock dust over large agricultural areas. This sounds fairly innocuous especially if tesla comes through with those electric semi trucks.

I suspect future innovations might introduce a few wildcards like if AI weeding robots could really weed or harvest a polyculture.

However I think in many regards the past holds the answers- we used to farm within the annual carbon budget provided by the sun. We can use that technology again with some improvements- modern horse farming equipment is higher tech in many respects. However there might be a price to pay in terms of the energy budget required to feed everyone if we are now in fact essentially feeding people using fossil fuel.
 
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Your point on vertical farming, Bryant, is why I feel that the vertical farms need to be the endpoint of sewage treatment, specifically an integral part of a solar-powered waste treatment initiative, one that may include methane-producing biodigesters, black soldier fly larvae, red worms, reed bed systems, and/or any of a number of good ideas that would work in concert to turn waste into useable liquid nutrient and soil, and maybe heat from methane, or perhaps electricity by using it in a methane fuel cell.

People won't stop living in cities, so vertical farming tied to waste treatment and recycling makes sense. I would say that recycling nutrients otherwise treated and flushed into the oceans is the only way to really address the unsustainability of urban life, and that dropping vertical farms in close proximity to water treatment plants is a good idea because the property values will already be depressed (I drive past a water treatment plant twice daily, and there's a reason that the condo towers downwind of it have windows that don't open to the outside and all their air is filtered). A semi-circle of towers with south-facing glass curtain walls could be made relatively cheaply, as compared with the cost of modern condo towers, which we have springing up in abundance here in Toronto. Shipping waste products, everything from skids to those wire cage-reinforced food grade plastic shipping containers and open-topped crates could be used for various things, if that were the goal, or there currently exists all manner of hydroponic and aeroponic systems that scale well that could be purchased right off the shelf. And it could be marketed as a way to train and employ otherwise able people who have chosen to panhandle and live on the streets, or those who are otherwise able but unemployed or unemployable.

What a way that would be to deal with unemployment, homelessness, nutrient waste, and food shortage issues!

So in short, another piece of the food solution puzzle should be coupling urban waste with urban food production in designed sustainable vertical spaces, to allow for some more sensitive food production to happen closer to where it will be consumed. If the crops that can't be produced without herbicides and pesticides were grown this way, that would mean less need for spraying fields, and no need to spray inside the vertical farm environment.

-CK
 
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Tim Bermaw wrote: Permaculture and cities are, therefore, incompatible.  You can have one, but not the other.



I don’t think this is necessarily true, and is narrow sighted. Some city folks think that the only source of food is the grocery store with shelves filled via trucks. What about the other city folks who have small gardens? What about activists living within cities that recognize this problem and are creating urban permaculture gardens? Some folks are working with city officials to plant food producing trees and shrubs in city parks. The dutch are setting a great example of what is possibly in greenhouses on rooftops in cities. People are putting forth the effort and setting examples that permaculture and cities are compatible.
 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:This is exactly what is currently going on in farming Tim, nothing new here and it is totally wrong. Current Large Farm Method is what you describe, it is proven to be non-sustainable since inputs will always out pace and out cost outputs. Any economist will tell you that is disaster coming, any Accountant will tell you that always being in the red will put you into bankruptcy fast.


I agree that it's nothing new, totally wrong, a disaster in the making, and financially crazy.  Nonetheless it's "best practice" and in many cases, mandated by law β€” two things that generate so much inertia that voluntary and substantive change is inconceivable at this point in time.  Money is already being, and will continue to be, printed out of thin air to keep the system going.  The only plausible trigger I see possibly forcing a change is a critical breakdown in the food chain of Homo sapiens.  By the time that registers with (climate-denying) lawmakers, it will be too late β€” rebuilding/resurrecting an array of endangered/extinct species can't be done fast enough to avoid a population collapse.

People are starting to demand quality not consistency of inferior quality.


Quality costs.  Only people with money can afford it.  The middle class is being wiped out.  I don't see where these customer will be coming from.

The day Nature is taken out of the farm equation is the day humans begin to disappear from existence.


I think that's what will happen, and that's what it'll take before we change course.  I'd wager two or three more generations before we crash and burn.
 
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As to your point, Tim, the metrics are changing, as can be seen by the adoption of carbon taxation. If current, wasteful practices only make sense because carbon was free to waste and that changes, so does the whole game. If you change the game, what used to make sense, won't. If the nutrient content of crops becomes more of an issue to the consumer, as it is for anyone not buying premade, packaged food, it ceases to be important how much nutrient-deficient grain you can pull out of a hectare.

Your point seems to have as its cornerstone the idea that you can't have urban permaculture; I think that idea lacks imagination. If food priced spiked and stayed high for long enough, I wager we'd see every south-facing balcony in Toronto doing their own bit of balcony gardening. What would you call that but intensively managed vertical farming?

We are talking about the future of farming, not widely accepted best practices fuelled by policy written up by politicians making a buck for themselves and whichever lobbyists paid the most. Why would you guess that in some cases farmers are paid to farm, and to harvest food that will either get turned into fuel or will rot and go to landfills? With the rock-bottom cost of natural gas these days, do you imagine anyone would be growing fuel crops if entrenched interests hadn't set things up so they couldn't do something more profitable with their land?

And again, your points fail to address the issue of looming mass unemployment due to automation. This in itself is a paradigm shift. Labour used to be so valuable that slavery was a thing. Now governments will have to pay people a living wage because there will be no work. They need to eat. They will have nothing to do. Nothing suggests that food will become cheaper, and all the data we have suggests that in societies where we now have cheap food, we are spending what we would have before on food now to treat the illnesses that the nutrient-deficient matter we are now consuming cause us to have. It seems pretty straightforward to me that the unemployed should be encouraged to farm, or garden, or to fit, in whatever way, into local sustainable food production systems that they, in turn, benefit from.

If farming were to continue the way it's going, the soil will be gone or dead, except where we abandon it for long enough, and that's if we don't do something special to poison it.

-CK
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Great points Chris, I have a couple of friends that are currently building a warehouse vertical farm, it won't rely on all sunlight, it will have artificial light powered by solar panels on the roof of their repurposed warehouse building and it is going to be an aquaponic setup, growing both fish and vegetables.
Their market is the bay area so quite a large market available to support their farm.

The largest farms I've worked with are over 1 million acres but they don't grow food, they grow commodities (SRW, HRW, Soybeans, Cotton, Rice and Corn) most of this ends up either exported to other countries or it ends up in cattle feeds, flour mills only take in around 1/4 of their wheat production and that is from commodity companies not the farmer. Several of these farmers are switching to sustainable methods and using fewer chemicals because of the costs involved.

Changes are not just thoughts, many states are banning chemicals found to do damage to other peoples crops and land. Law suits are being filed against the chemical companies and science is showing the dangers these chemicals are to people.
Just this last week a study was published showing that Apples need to be washed for a minimum of 15 minutes to remove chemical residues to make them edible by humans.

People in cities are starting to demand better quality foods, grocery stores are starting to see that they aren't selling the crud produce they used to, people are demanding better for them food and the stores that don't provide it are closing down because they are going broke.
In my life time I have seen people flee to the suburbs to get away from the cities, now that is starting to change some back the other way.

The problem with thinking things won't change fast is kind of failing to see the writing on the wall, much like the French Aristocracy did. Countries are finding themselves in financial upheaval, bankrupt from years of over spending and borrowing, economies are failing, add it all up and there will be change, one way or the other. The EU has banned many of what the US Farmer depends on currently, they are now starting to ban the products the US Farmer produces, that means change or die out to those who stick their head in the sand and pretend changes aren't happening already.

This isn't about everyone turning to permaculture, it is about farming methods changing towards sustainable methods and away from spray and scrape, no till is gaining major ground as the preferred method of planting on the huge farms.
using less chemical inputs is also on the rise, mostly because many of the chemicals are being outlawed or shown to cause cancer in those who use them, not the consumer of the end product.
The average age of a farmer today is 55 or so, all the children of those farmers are turning to anything but farming for a living. The new farmers that are coming into the business are not following "the norm", they are the ones changing the way farmers farm.

Waste treatment methods are being changed, faster than most can imagine. Food waste is on the minds of more and more people, but current laws will have to be changed and liabilities reduced before grocery stores will be able to make much of what they throw out (that is perfectly good still) available to those who want it for food or to make compost. I was talking with a Kroger Manager not long ago about the possibility of picking up their throw out produce for my hog farm, this company will not allow that because of "Legal Issues and Liability", that has to change sooner than later, all Kroger out of date produce goes to Land Fills currently.
 
Chris Kott
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And not only is voluntary and substantive change conceivable, as we are talking about it now, people are doing differently already.

Pilot projects are underway in many urban areas with regards to urban chickens. You might scoff at this, but it's a huge leap forward. It's legal in some cities already. Even if they can't be raised for meat in the city, regular eggs, disposal of food waste, and fertilizer for the garden are huge pieces of the sustainability puzzle. The reduction in organic bin volume alone would likely represent cost savings at the municipal level, and every problem that backyard chicken keeping by urbanites poses is instead an opportunity for some entrepreneur to start a chicken care or fertilizer or yard and garden management business.

Grocers in France are being made responsible for ensuring that as little food as possible is wasted. This is a shift away from the best practices of the past. Similar shifts are occurring all the time. I don't see a need for disaster porn here. There are entrenched interests that will make progress plodding, but it will go forward. It's generally considered a bad sign if your electorate is rioting over food shortages, and politicians always have the next pesky election to worry about.

I foresee the transition being slow, economically driven, and quiet. Food prices will occasionally surge seasonally. Carbon taxes will make it worthwhile to have electric freight, first by train and then likely by ship, and in addition to solar electric, ships will likely employ those giant parachute-like kites that act as tethered sails. So international interests will source crops from where they grow best, without worry for carbon taxes.

Foods that can be grown locally will be embraced by those who can't afford food imported from elsewhere, and as a result, the heirlooms that are too delicate to withstand being shipped and grow there locally will grow in popularity in their locales. Seasonality will also return to being a thing, as we are already seeing.

I am not saying that every bit of food production everywhere will be intensively-managed market gardens. But permaculture is a philosophy, and a correct one. Once economic systems and models all take variables that historically have been ignored, like damage to the environment and social damage, both locally and globally, into account, and waste is just a feedstock to another industry (and byproducts that can't fuel anything are made illegal to produce or simply made too expensive to risk) permaculture will be seen as the most cost-effective long-term strategy.

-CK
 
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Bryant RedHawk wrote:The problem with thinking things won't change fast is kind of failing to see the writing on the wall, much like the French Aristocracy did.



Although the French aristocracy were not privy to the same social control measures that exist today (mass media and its means of delivery), I tend to agree with this.  The flipping of the switch from relative security to insecurity can be pretty fast and is more fractal-like in nature....more like unexpected changes in the weather... than something predictable.

A vision that I like is represented by the image and text below from the city of Chicago, Ill (USA).  The notion that first one garden, then another, then another....then more and more that merges with greenspace, eventually eroding the "urban-ness" with the re-distribution of the human population outward from the city, is one that seems feasible over time.  It's been noted that to have that happen suddenly would  cause enormous conflict as it would incur too much population overload in rural areas which is true.  But to have it happen slowly.....with the natural attrition of the population over many generations to match that of the resource availability and distribution of the emerging paradigm....may represent one version of backing away from the precipice.
UrbanGarden.JPG
[Thumbnail for UrbanGarden.JPG]
 
Tim Bermaw
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Chris Kott wrote:the metrics are changing, as can be seen by the adoption of carbon taxation.


The USA never adopted a carbon tax.  Australia adopted one, then repealed it.  Further, the carbon tax is a blunt hammer used to smash entire economies into submission β€” it was never designed to focus on agriculture, or bring about the sort of changes needed on a farm.  Even if tractors and trucks become electric it won't make a lick of difference to farming practices.  All that the carbon tax is designed to do is extend global petroleum reserves by penalising their use so they run out slowly instead of quickly.  Nothing to do with farming practice.

Your point seems to have as its cornerstone the idea that you can't have urban permaculture; I think that idea lacks imagination. If food priced spiked and stayed high for long enough, I wager we'd see every south-facing balcony in Toronto doing their own bit of balcony gardening. What would you call that but intensively managed vertical farming?


Rather than "lacking imagination", I see it as "having basic competency in math".  Even if you cover every south-facing balcony in Toronto you'll grow no more than about 3-4% of the kiloJoules required by the population.  That might look nice, but it is wholly inadequate.  Almost laughable.

Will such balconies exist?  Sure.  Are they a good idea?  You bet.  Will the people growing those gardens feel good about their decision and enjoy the fruits of their labour?  Indeed.  Will balcony gardens make a difference to the urban population as a whole?  Nope, not in the slightest.  A (literal) handful of m² of balcony can't replace several thousand m² of field.  Never can, never will.  Because:  Math.

We are talking about the future of farming, not widely accepted best practices fuelled by policy written up by politicians making a buck for themselves and whichever lobbyists paid the most.


You went on to provide examples of how bad and broken that system is.  I agree entirely.  It doesn't, however, matter.  Broken systems are all around us.  Some of those broken systems have been perpetuated for hundreds of years.  Why?  Inertia.  It matters.  Just because a small fraction of people wake up to the fact (that a system is clearly and obviously broken) it doesn't mean the system will get fixed (or replaced).  Even if the majority of people think a system is broken, it doesn't mean it will get fixed.  Why?  Inertia.  The systems have been locked into place (legally, culturally, or both) so strongly that no-one is willing to take on the problem (and fight the vested interests).  Politicians have nothing to gain by fighting big-Ag, so they won't.  Inertia.   It's only when something extreme occurs that they have enough leverage to crack open the window of opportunity.  "Never let a good crisis go to waste."  Ergo:  A dramatic, politically-exploitable crisis will need to occur before agricultural reform does.  (Something like another Dust Bowl might do the trick β€” that would provide great visuals to sway the ignorant and apathetic masses.)

And again, your points fail to address the issue of looming mass unemployment due to automation. This in itself is a paradigm shift.


It may be a paradigm shift, but it's also irrelevant to farming.  People in the West don't want to farm.  Farming is hard and dirty work, and people are lazy (call it "averse to labour" if you will).  Not only are people lazy, but people are increasingly lazy and retreating from blue-collar work en masse.  This trend is not slowing down β€” it is speeding up.  Let the slave labourers in other countries do the hard work, whilst we just shop, tap icons on our phones or provide "services".  Once again, you need to look at the actual trends β€” the real numbers β€” rather than ideology or fantasy.

There is no data to support the theory that unemployed westerners will become attracted, and flock, to farming β€” regardless of how many unemployed there are, or why they became unemployed.  If you know of such data, I'd love to see it so I can moderate my view.

It seems pretty straightforward to me that the unemployed should be encouraged to farm, or garden, or to fit, in whatever way, into local sustainable food production systems that they, in turn, benefit from.


"should be encouraged to" sounds like "coerced" to me.  "Farm 5m² or have your unemployment benefits docked."  Once again, people aren't refusing to farm because it's impossible β€” they are refusing to farm because it is undesirable.  If you need to coerce people to do 'the right thing', then 'the right thing' isn't something that people actually want to do and it's not something that will inevitably happen of its own accord.  Inertia.  Takes a long time to overcome.  Generations, usually.

The OP set a time frame of 50 years for his question.  That's only 2.x generations.  None of the research, data, trends or calculations I have seen or done would allow one to predict β€” with any level of confidence β€” that agriculture will bear any notable similarity to permaculture in 50 years.  I'd like to be wrong about this β€” I really would β€” but the math says it's going to take a whole lot longer (barring a food-chain-disruption event).  Inertia is an incredibly powerful and underrated 'force'.
 
Tim Bermaw
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James Freyr wrote:

Tim Bermaw wrote: Permaculture and cities are, therefore, incompatible.  You can have one, but not the other.


I don’t think this is necessarily true, and is narrow sighted. Some city folks think that the only source of food is the grocery store with shelves filled via trucks. What about the other city folks who have small gardens? What about activists living within cities that recognize this problem and are creating urban permaculture gardens? Some folks are working with city officials to plant food producing trees and shrubs in city parks. The dutch are setting a great example of what is possibly in greenhouses on rooftops in cities. People are putting forth the effort and setting examples that permaculture and cities are compatible.


This thread is posted in the "Large Farms" forum and the OP wanted to have a discussion about "commercial mass farming".  What a few people do in their back yard, or on their rooftops, or in neglected public spaces, is not really relevant.  The amount of area and sunlight you have in urban areas can, in no way, remotely meet the food needs of the people living there.  It doesn't matter what methods you use, or how efficient they are β€” the population density is just too high.

We currently need about 1 Ha (10,000m²) of farmland to support each person's food requirements (global average).  Western private detached dwellings stabilised on the "quarter-acre-block" for quite a long time (before subdivision took its toll) so let's use that as an average.  A quarter-acre is ~1,000m².  That means your property is (1000/10000=) only 10% the size it needs to be in order to grow the food you need to live.  See the problem?

You can't build "large farms" and do "commercial mass farming" in a city β€” there simply isn't enough room.  Sure, some people can grow some of the food they need.  But you just can't feed the whole city that way.  In particular, you can't feed the >98% of people who have absolutely no interest in farming that way.  For urban permaculture to feed the urban population, each permie would need to feed 49 other mouths, and would require a 1000m² property to feed 50 people.  That's 20m² per person.

To the best of my knowledge, no sustainable form of agriculture (permaculture or otherwise) exists on Earth β€” or has ever existed on Earth β€” which allows the nutritional needs of a human to be fully met by 20m² of land.  Ergo: Permaculture and cities are incompatible.

If you want the more nuanced version:  Permaculture (as currently defined and taught) cannot support the nutritional needs of entire cities.  It works really well at the small scale (permies feeding themselves), starts to break at the medium scale (permies feeding their immediate neighbours/community), and is wholly inadequate at the large scale (permies feeding cities full of people who have no interest whatsoever in growing food).  There is not now, nor will there ever be, a "permaculture city".  Because:  Math.

If we continue to have cities β€” and it looks like we will β€” we will continue to need vast, remote areas to produce food for the people who live in those cities and are either unable or unwilling to grow their own food.  Those large farms have been, are, and will continue to be driven by the need for consistency and scalability.  Permaculture/polyculture/biodiversity provide neither because they add variables, complications and uncertainty, so will not be the philosophy that shapes "commercial mass farming" over the next 50 years.

Some things just don't scale β€” permaculture is one of them.
 
Marco Banks
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Tim Bermaw wrote:

Some things just don't scale β€” permaculture is one of them.




May I respectfully disagree?

The principles of permaculture are being used by an increasing number of large operators.  They are finding greater profitability by just integrating 3 important techniques.

First, they are going no-till.  What was a fringe planting technique 25 years ago is now commonplace throughout the midwest.  Farmers used to turn their soil at least 3 times a season.  Now, many are not doing so even once.

Second, integrating a cover crop into their system is increasingly common.  Some do a cool-season cover crop that gets crimped before the primary grain crop is planted.  Some integrate a multi-species cover-crop between the rows of their cash crop.  Still others plant an early season grain crop, and then quickly seed a nitrogen fixing cover crop after they harvest.  This cover crop can then be grazed, thus they are getting twice as many calories off an acre as they were before, and are regenerating soil in the process.  And some do all three --- CRAZY.

Third, farmers have practiced animal integration on crop fields forever, but now with integrated cover-cropping, they are able to feed a higher volume of stock than before.  Use of mob-stocking techniques with moveable electric poly-wire allows them to concentrate the goodness of animal integration in ways never done before.  Joel Salatin runs inexpensive water-lines to his pastures and irrigates during the dry summer months.  For $20 an acre, he can run his cattle across the land twice as often, essentially doubling the yield.  Capturing water at ponds high on his property, he redistributes the water to the fields below.  How many of the 12 permaculture principles are being practiced right there?  4?  5?

These three techniques all mimic nature and fall clearly into the camp of permaculture.  There are many others being practiced by farmers throughout the midwest, but I only highlight these three.

Farmers like Joel Salatin and Gabe Brown are running highly profitable farms that are building soil and sequestering carbon.  They frequently reference permaculture in their talks and speak at national permaculture events.  I don't need to argue that permaculture is scalableβ€”they have much more credibility to do so than I ever will.
 
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